Idea Machine : Day 4/200 (Friends!)

Meeting up with friends is always cathartic. I should do it more often. Spending an entire day just hanging out, starting with brunch to a NGO board meeting and then drinks and dinner, means a day truly well spent. The discussions ranged from all the happenings at ZS to the world issues to the technological advancements of the future to the stock market and lastly, our personal lives. It feels good to be yourself. I sometimes feel myself more around such friends than my family members. I mean it is a different level of being connected – with similar mindsets, educational background and age. In fact, four of us share our birthdays within a couple of weeks of each other.

Anyways, I need to sleep early with a packed day waiting tomorrow. So here we go with the routine

‘One new idea related to technology’ : Self cleaning car
It came up as a joke with the friends but a self-cleaning car would be amazing. It probably could be very basic but the coating material could be such that it doesn’t let dust and other dirt settle on it, so the wind can blow it away. Maybe there are tiny nozzles around that spray the car with clean water. The areas where the window rolls down to can be another innovative space to clean the window panes.

‘One new scientific learning’
It is not necessarily a learning  but a realization that our ‘self’ is merely a projection of our brain’s perspective, which in itself is simply a collection of fading memories. Self necessitates a continuity that is provided by the need to have the biological vitals within a very narrow survival range. I am increasingly curious to understand the workings of the brain.

‘One new life lesson’
Music has played an increasingly important role in my life. I probably never listened to music as a kid. I remember actively listening to music beginning only in 11th/12th grade. In college, it increased exponentially. However, last few years living alone, has made me appreciate music from multiple perspectives. It allows you to immerse in pain, which is intoxicating in its own evil way.

Life is not a collection of days but moments. Moments that bring experience and excitement in its own special way. There is no purpose for those moments. They are not meant to help others. They could make for good stories but that is about it. From being a protected, smart, angry kid of 90s, I evolved into a carefree, selfish young man during college. The success did not elude so the crash was very painful. However, no one succeeds in life without big failures, whether personal or professional or both as in my case. The experience in last few years have brought a wealth of life capturing moments for which I was never prepared. No one can understand or help you during those tough times.

Music brings those moments to life and makes you feel alive. It fires neurons in the brain that you never knew existed. It tugs you into a world for which you were never prepared. The real world.

The self developed coping mechanisms, whether it is immersing yourself in work or hobbies, allow you to survive that world. They have made me into a much more self-aware, still selfish, more calm and patient, more curious young man.

‘One new idea related to work’
Network, network and network. Send emails to ex-colleagues at ZS like Christian Bennett. Send emails to people looking at my LinkedIn profile, especially people from Healthcare Startups. Atleast, you open up doors of opportunity and then decide whether it is a good fit or not. Open as many doors as possible.

‘One new idea related to love/relationships’

Why are we so possessive? Or atleast why am I so possessive? Is it simply a by product of my previous relationship that has formed a defining stamp of love in my mind? However, simply put, the need for love is simply addiction. The need for those happy hormones that are released due to someone desiring you. But why do we crave attention? What is the ancestral association? Maybe attraction leads to the biological need to reproduce. And that is where most discussions end. However, I still do not understand the biological need to reproduce. Yes, I know we need to do that to survive as a species and reproduction is the only means to pass on our DNA and hence, our genetic information. But why? Why cannot a species simply be happy to live and die as an organism rather than think of the species? If reproduction happens, it happens – well and good. If it doesn’t, then forget it. The universe will carry on just as if Earth did not exist. It is not as if the living species on Earth is running the universe.
Maybe a part of the answer lies in the origins of life. How and why cells formed that lead to living species on earth. I crave to understand that better. The theory of ‘primordial soup’ has its holes but probably the most accepted in today’s world. I still fail to understand many nuances here.
One answer I read on Quora mentioned that evolution does not really care about individual human beings. Evolution is optimizing for replication of genes, where the organism itself or its physical form is simply a disposable vehicle to transport genes through time and hence stay immortal. Sexual reproduction allows for further optimization as it picks the best characteristics from both organisms and continues to propagate through time. And once a better version of the organism has been born in the form of the offspring, the parent is disposable and in fact, a liability on the finite resources available. There is a need for organisms to be mortal. This also answers why hasn’t evolution continued to make any organisms immortal or atleast make an effort towards that.

‘One new idea to further explore/learn’
Not necessarily new, but I need to further explore Origins of life!! It is not a passing thought anymore. It comes up as a common thread across various ideas and thoughts. I need to get a book for this. ‘The Selfish Gene’ might be a good start. Need to explore.


Idea Machine – Day 3/200 (Anguish!)

It is hard to blog everyday. It is not due to lack of time even though I have been relatively more busy over the last few days. I mean, come on, I spent three hours watching ‘Agneepath’ rather than being productive. Anyways, back to business.

‘One new idea related to technology’
I wish there was an easy way for similar 9 to 5 workers like me to connect and work on cool projects during off hours / weekends. A lot of people are probably spending their time Netflixing / drinking / watching porn etc. Many of them would be more than happy to spend a few hours every week on an exciting project, only if there are other people ready to lead and give them specific directions.
– Could anything be done here?

‘One new scientific learning’
Reading an article on ‘digital healthcare startups’, I learned how the data inter-portability limitations has put a dampener on the startups in being able to market/sell their products. With over 100 EHR providers in US alone, lack of open API availability would definitely be an issue. Hopefully, the government realizes and ensures open APIs for vendors to be recognized by the vendor etc.  Great learning as it drives home the point that it is not all red and rosy in the startup world despite loads of VC money flowing into them.

‘One new life lesson’

‘Why should I go to college?’
So you can get a degree
‘Why should I get a degree?’
So you can get a good job
So you can make good money
So you can pay back your college loans

I found this as a comic strip somewhere (cannot find the reference now), but it resonates not with me personally, but as a societal issue running deep in countries like US. It is amazing how people think about money before trying to get education. That is not how it should be and hopefully it changes pretty soon.

‘One new idea related to work’
Just do things. I am starting to have new ideas to visualize the Personalized Marketing project, however, rather than expecting other responsible people to create my vision, I need to just get it done. This is the time of my life to fucking work hard and not delegate everything. Don’t be so lazy.

‘One new idea related to love/relationships’
Dhadakte dil se poocho mat
Chup kyun hain uski zubaan
Jeene ke liye hai zindagi
Par lafz dil ke hon zaroor

‘One new idea to further explore/learn’
Neural networks. I keep hearing it as I read about AI. Since that is the future in various industries, I would love to get a better sense of how we are progressing towards making machines learn for themselves (though it is for another post that we need to better understand how our brains in order to be successful in truly AI machines)

Innovation Culture – Limitations of Education System?

Growing up, I always dreamt of creating / innovating things. However, I distinctly remember the thought that most things have been already invented. That thought is miles away from my mind now, however, it bugs me as to how could I be so disconnected from reality? Those thoughts cannot be further away from truth. There were unlimited innovations to be done then and there are still unlimited innovations to be done now, and there will be unlimited innovations to be done at any point in the future.

I should still feel lucky that I had very supportive parents and a few teachers who allowed me to expand my creativity. Designing and building my own website and newsletter; and then the biggest one being writing down the ‘Kaun Banega Saupati’ software, were some highlights during my high school years. However, I attribute these achievements despite the Indian education system.

Beyond these formative years, as I finished my tenth grade, it was the right time to further explore my interests and learnings. However, I had been drilled since childhood that the only future is in being either an engineer or a doctor. I realize its a cliche but could not be more true. The education system was geared to learn the sciences and just aim to get marks. I never really wanted to go deeper into any of the subjects despite doing really well in school. I was simply happy being ranked one after every examination.

To avoid it becoming a crib post, I do want to stress that this is all very easy to say in hindsight. I am indeed very grateful for all the amazing foundation of my schooling that has allowed me to reach today’s status and hopefully much higher in the future. From growing up in a small town in the Himalayas, to studying in a metropolitan city like New Delhi and then moving to US and working here, has been a very exciting journey. All the life experiences, and there have been many ups and downs, have further fueled my ambitions.

Idea Machine – Day 1/200 (Stay Curious!)

While waiting for ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ to download tonight, let me embark on this exercise of becoming an idea machine. I realized the importance of flexing my idea muscle several times over the last year; however I need to make it a regular habit through an approach I heard over a podcast. So in this exercise, I plan to write 10 new ideas a day for the next 200 days. Post the 100th day, I need to actually start taking action on them to make them worthwhile.

So here I go

Idea Category/Labels
An app to switch off/on/dim the lights in the room/home
How to connect electricity in home to mobile device? Like I always wish to adjust TV volume with my mobile
3 Wireless charging – still not sure why it is still not a thing Technology
4 A biochip on iWatch that pricks your skin for blood and does health checkup on the fly to recommend very “personalized” nutritional requirements BioTech
5 Introducing smell to the upcoming Virtual Reality technology – a way for the headset to recognize the ambient sensations in virtual world and then be able to let the user feel them BioTech
6 Self-learning algorithms. How can technology become self-learning? What is the current technology and how can we push it further such that a machine, after being taught a specific activity, can apply it to something else?  Learning
7 Can eye movements be tracked by a camera? It has far reaching implications. If it can be done, it will be the next big thing – for people to be able to use eyes as an input device. I mean, one straight forward way is to use camera technology to compare images of a person’s eye by second to monitor the difference and note the movements accordingly, no? Technology
8 An idea can change people’s lives but if people realize that the meaning of life is just to enjoy and grow oneself as a person (basically self-development as life goal), wouldn’t world be a better place to live? Motivation
9 Imagining a future without any cables/wires : So exciting. I mean right from no optic fibre lines for internet/cable TV (this is very critical to break the monopoly of few in this space) to a home without wires (where everything is charged wirelessly). A light bulb or even a TV just runs on batteries that are charged wirelessly through the solar panels attached to each house. The extra solar energy can be sold to the grid or ideally wirelessly to a central location so industries and other heavy energy consumption places can buy that extra power. Technology
10 Everything needs to become personalized – right from career choices, healthcare, relationships, technology, motivation – nothing should be generalized anymore. Maybe this framework of 10 ideas a day is not personalized for me. I get excited about ideas but more importantly, I want to learn more about the sectors that I generate ideas about. They might lead me to something or they might not. But I want to find out – be an ‘explorer’ of ideas, thoughts and places (both in actual and metaphorically). So instead, maybe the right personalized framework for me is to write a post on ‘one new idea related to technology’, ‘one new scientific learning’, ‘one new life lesson’, ‘one new idea related to work’, ‘one new idea related to love/relationships’, ‘one new idea related to future’, ‘one new idea to further explore/learn’. This can be modified per need basis, and more importantly, leverage this as a guiding framework rather than a rule. Just like religions are meant to be – just guiding principles for living a life rather than hard rules not meant to be broken. Personalized Frameworks

Thought Bubbles!

Waking up in the middle of the night is usually not a pleasant experience. What is more irritating is the inability to fall back asleep. Last night, when I woke up at four in the morning, I couldn’t fall back asleep even after a few indiscernible minutes. At that frustrating moment, out of the blue, I thought to apply the most basic and the only meditation technique I knew – focus on my breathing.
It wasn’t easy as my mind strayed to random thoughts. It quickly became a haze as my sleepy mind registered the reason for my lack of focus. The inability to clear my mind and focus on the task at hand leads to the state of mental obscurity. Usually, at that point I would fall asleep, however, this time I decided to do something about these stray thoughts.
I wanted to observe those thoughts from a third person perspective. It was easier said than done as thoughts at four in the morning are immensely personal as well as fuzzy.
I focused on the first thought that sprang up – my parents’ happiness and them worrying about me and my brother. As I forced myself to separate that thought from the entire fuzziness of 4am, I realized the need to also disassociate myself from the feelings related to that thought. Without that disassociation, I would easily dig a deeper hole and get lost in the haze.
I need to stress that it wasn’t easy. It felt like pushing a ball against a hard wall. In fact, to my surprise, I unconsciously began to focus on that ball and could unmistakably visualize it. It was the closest to a Eureka feeling that I ever had. I could feel being a bystander as I observed the ball pushing against the wall. It was trying to free itself from the mangled collection of thoughts on one side to the clarity on the other side (spherical such that the sphere held the mangled thoughts with the free space outside it).
As I visualized the wall boundary being stretched, the ball suddenly broke free and passed through the boundary. It floated into the space on the other side surrounded by calm and peace. It was my first thought bubble and I felt so clear-headed. Probably this post does not do justice to the experience, but at that moment, I figured out an amazing process of clearing my mind to focus on a task. I picked up the next thought – my feelings towards my love – and let it form a floating bubble as well. I felt so light. 
In those moments, I realized I had stepped upon a highly personal meditative tool to bring sanity into my life. There are just too many things in my mind at one moment that I can never get to the task at hand. It is frustrating.
I realize that the application of thought bubble creation process is going to take practice and immense effort to translate it into a habit. However, I feel very excited about this new way to bring sanity to my current muddled state of mind. 

Origins of Life #2

Spending numerous hours over the last couple of days on the literature surrounding ‘Origins of Life’, it has been a very exciting read. I cannot believe I never thought about this question yet – how did biological life evolve from chemical compounds? On the positive side, it means my exercise of flexing the idea muscle is not useless.

When I deeply think about our lives, the level of intelligence achieved by human species is just mind boggling. In fact, not just humans, the complexity of the tiniest simplest living creatures is so huge that we cannot yet fathom how such creatures came into being. How did a bunch of molecules end up being smart enough to develop into even a single cell? Mind you, one cell in today’s human body consists of millions and millions of molecules. Considering even the prehistoric times of 3 to 4 billion years ago when life is estimated to have originated, a set of molecules would have decided to bunch together. Why on God’s Earth would life spark in them? What would make them want to think about reproduction? Why would they not just let themselves be and collide/fuse/break among themselves and play around? Why would they want to develop themselves into something that is preservation-worthy; something that needs food and energy from the environment and then even be able to store information that can be passed down through generations?

It is incredibly fascinating and helps understand the fact that it took millions of years for us to evolve. However, the question about the first spark still remains? Why and how did those non-living molecules evolve to a living cell? Could it actually be a supernatural power (not as the God humans currently believe in, but some microbe from a faraway planet)? Or is it the primordial soup that the literature talks about that is difficult to fathom by the current human brain? Such a primordial soup would have lots of chemical reactions taking place that would lead to more and more complex molecular structures.

There are two ways to break down the problem here: (1) bottom-up approach where we aim to understand how these chemical compounds could have given birth to a cell (possibly the most important cellular component being a cell membrane as that allows the cell to first protect itself from the environment and then allow itself even a chance to evolve). This is the approach I briefly discussed above in even trying to understand the situation.

(2) There is also the second top-down approach, where we study the current cellular structure and then gradually break down its components to understand the absolute necessary pieces required to sustain life. Here, we understand the three key components – one, RNA, two, DNA and three, protein. As I currently understand, RNA can serve the dual purpose of DNA (carrying genetic information) and the protein (enzymes carrying metabolic reactions for energy etc.). Hence, many scientists believe the origins of life to be RNA-only world.

Obviously, I have barely even scratched the surface of this subject. I am sure the answers are not easy to get and fathom as the implications would be far-reaching. If we can create life out of non-living things, I mean – simply put – wouldn’t we become Gods? Clearly, huge moral implications for the human race, but also importantly, the scientific world would simply explode.

Origins of Life # 1

Why are there biological life forms on earth? It is mind boggling that in our observable universe, we have never come across any other biological life form – not even simplest forms like single-celled amoebas.

I mean most humans just accept that fact and let it be for the smart scientists to figure out the reason. Obviously humans have always had that curiosity and formulated varied theories to support this fact. So it is not a new unusual question. However, I want to get more understanding and knowledge of this age-old question and perhaps, gain insights into the origins of religion and other themes that resonate with most of humanity.

Strictly in scientific terms as the world accepts (it would have to be another post that discusses how religion and science are perhaps complementary and not in direct conflict), the question boils down to – how did the world full of chemical compounds lead to complex biological life forms? At Big Bang, there must have been only core elements/compounds as we understand in chemistry. Gradually, these chemical compounds would have collided, and led to creation of more complex compounds and then at some point in the early age of Earth (assuming biological life does not exist outside Earth), the molecules became quite complex and at the right habitable time, the first biological life form was created.

What led to that creation? Was it a plant or an animal? Was it just a single-celled amoeba? In the next few days or weeks, I will aim to dive into the existing scientific literature/blogs/Wikipedia, to help answer these questions.

As humans stretch their potential to become an inter-planetary species, answers to such questions will become ever more relevant in our pursuit. Exciting times ahead!!